Food Bank Britain

December 9, 2014 4:48 pm

‘Britain Isn’t Eating’ – the first of a series of microplays directed by a collaboration of Guardian journalists and Royal Court theatre-makers published on the 17th November has brought to light the unabashed dismissal from the coalition government in its approach to dealing with the alarming food poverty crisis that Britain faces today.

As director Carrie Cracknell states, the main aim of the microplay is to highlight the ‘patronising notion that the ‘feckless poor’ would be better off if they only knew how to manage their finances better.’ ‘Britain Isn’t Eating’ has successfully satirised these pejorative connotations harboured by the coalition government. It has clarified that class divisions are still entrenched in society as they ever were, despite ludicrous and offensive attempts to mask over such an inequality. A recent report published this week by economists at the London School of Economics and Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, conclude that the tax and benefit reforms since the coalition administration have been in office have hit the poorest the hardest: a sure blow to George Osborne’s ‘we’re all in this together’ claim. The research asserted that the lowest paid in the bottom 10% took a 5% hit and unsurprisingly the top 1% have been net gainers with an exception of the top 5% who lost 1% of their potential income. Overall, the statistics demonstrate the claims by food bank managers and charities across the country: that the benefit sanctions coupled with low pay and a cost-of-living crisis are to blame for the growing demand in food banks. Its findings are a clear indicator that the nation is perforated with an ever-growing disparity between rich and poor.

The reliance of food banks has grown exponentially over the last four years. One of the largest Food Bank networks The Trussell Trust has reported a dramatic increase of 163% in food parcels over the last year with over 900,000 parcels being distributed. 83% of food banks have reported that the welfare reforms that came into place just over a year ago are predominately to blame with low income coming in as the second biggest reason. An all-party inquiry led by Labour MP Frank Field launched in February has begun investigating the matter. Yet agreeing on the causes has been hindered by the ideological gulf between the left and right. With the left, they regard the issue as a ‘scandal’ that has been triggered by the government’s lack of interest in helping those most vulnerable to welfare reforms and economic austerity. Ed Miliband describes the proliferation as a ‘serious indictment.’ In comparison, figures on the right dismiss it as merely an example of sheer laziness – rather than a by-product of the austerity measures.

Edwina Currie former Conservative MP at the beginning of this year provided, perhaps, a perfect example of the ignorant and dismissive attitude embraced by the right, arguing that the reason for an increase in food banks is because food bank users are reckless with their money, spending it on two obvious expenditures – dog food and tattoos. Similarly, Michael Gove stated that the increase in the rise of food banks represented the people who showed they were ‘not best able to manage their finances’. David Cameron (before retracting this comment) argued the food banks are a great example of ‘Big Society’. This frustrating ignorance and distinct paltriness towards the poor, harboured by many of the political right, sullenly denote the inability of the coalition government to take responsibility, leaving the most vulnerable to fend for themselves. It resembles a distinct similarity to Margaret Thatcher’s attack on the poor. As Prime Minister, her claim that ‘there is no such thing as society’ seemed to suggest that the poor are the cause of their own condition – her critics appalled at her apparent indifference. If the latest findings are anything to go by, it has destroyed any lasting facade of fairness asserted by Osborne.

The statistics of food bank users give an indication of the severity of food poverty in Britain and have become a shameful defining aspect of the coalition administration. With the UK having the sixth richest economy in the world, it is astounding to believe that such an issue is happening. Anti-poverty groups and church leaders have argued that the figures do not even give a full picture of hunger in the UK as it does not include people who are too ashamed to ask for help or those cutting the size of their meals in order to feed their children. Although criticised by the government for inflating the severity of the problem, it is clear that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and with urgency.

Hopefully, those who watch ‘Britain Isn’t Eating’ will gain an understanding of the issue and the microplay will bring the food poverty crisis to the forefront of the political agenda in light of the general election next year.  Poverty and hunger were words synonymous of the nineteenth-century urban poor. Yet shockingly these words are still being used to describe the quality of life for many in Britain today. There is an unjust distribution of wealth and power in this country and ‘Britain Isn’t Eating’ and the latest research from the LSE’s John Hills and Essex University have highlighted that the pain of austerity and rewards of recovery have not been equitably shared amongst the nation, as so promised. The food bank crisis is now a shameful and saddening characteristic of British society. The debate continues on whether the proliferation of food banks are a by-product of a culture of dependency, pauperising those it seeks to help or that unemployment, benefit cuts and the increased cost of living are to blame for the growth in hunger and poverty. Whatever you choose to believe, social mobility is now dangerously sinking as social divide penetrates into society. Hopefully politicians of left and right can put aside the differences that divide them on this issue and reach a positive solution.

 

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  • ChrisRobinson

    Excellent article, Iona. Somebody needs to sit these politicians down and read this, and many others like it, to them, repeatedly, until they get the message.

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